Italy and Portugal cautiously await the World Cup play-off draw .. Friday

On Friday the eyes of the Italian and Portuguese fans will be on Zurich, where the draw for the European playoffs to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar, as the teams from their respective countries are likely to be in a group or to meet Poland, top scorer Robert Lewandowski, or Sweden and its giant star Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The International Game Federation (FIFA) draws the European qualifiers, in program on 24 and 29 March, as well as the play-offs scheduled for 13 and 14 June, in neutral field, between the fifth Asian qualification, the fifth South American qualifier, the fourth CONCACAF qualifier (Central America, North America and the Caribbean) and the Oceania champion. .

The Italian teams, European champions in the latest edition of quest’summer, and Portuguese, champions of the previous edition in 2016, have started in a difficult situation after not being able to book the direct qualification ticket to the group stage by inserting them in second place behind Switzerland and Serbia. 10 teams have reserved the direct cards for the old continent, and three cards remain to be decided through the supplement, with the participation of 12 teams.

Unlike the old system, the playoff will not take place in head to head between two games in home and in away, but the 12 teams will be divided in three tracks determined by a draw, and four teams will compete in each of them with a semifinal (March 24-25) and a final (March 28-29) The winner will go to the World Cup (three tracks = three qualified teams for each track).

The tension has increased slightly, even among the European champions, because the Italians, after winning the continental title last July, fear they will not be able to qualify for the second consecutive time to the World Cup after the disaster of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Something has stopped. “

Italians remember a shock four years ago when Sweden blocked the way to the World Cup in Russia during the play-offs that were held at the time, with the home and away system.

Like Italy, Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo trembles before the draw, amid harsh criticism from media clubs against coach Fernando Santos.

The Portuguese press held the manager primarily responsible for the defeat against his host Serbia (1-2) in the last round, when a draw was enough for him to reach the finals. But the Seleção, the old continent, has the experience of the World Cup, having qualified in 2010 and 2014.

The two continental giants are guaranteed to play the semifinal in home, thanks to their presence in the first level together with Scotland, Wales, Russia and Sweden.

But Italy and Portugal run the risk of meeting in final or face another injured team like Sweden, who reached the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

And if Sweden disappointed in the last European Cup by coming out of the final price at the hands of Ukraine, they shone remarkably in the World Cup qualifiers, as it was in advantage against Spain two rounds from the end of qualifying, knowing they had beaten “La Roja” 2-1 before losing to him In the last round 0-1.

The Scandinavian team has regained the services of its giant Ibrahimovic (40) after recovering from the injury suffered in summer and which prevented him from participating in the Continental Cup.

Ibra is one of the biggest scarecrows in this draw, as well as Polish striker Lewandowski, who scored eight goals in qualifying.

The German Bayern Munich star is scarier, especially with his country’s national team at the second level of the draw, and therefore will be a possible opponent from the semifinals for Italy or Portugal.

“We have enough good players to beat a great team in only one game, “said Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa.

Perhaps Sousa would prefer to face a more modest team in the prime ranked as Wales, which have not played in the World Cup finals since 1958, or Russia or Scotland, which did not shine in the last European Cup.

In turn, the other second tier teams, and it is Ukraine, Austria, Turkey, the Czech Republic and North Macedonia, await their fate and potential rivals, with the ambition of creating a surprise. in these “Finals of the Quartet”.

“For the World Cup, we have to face the (big) teams. It is a challenge that we will fight for,” said Czech defender Jakub Brabic, recalling that his country beat Scotland 2-0 in Glasgow. in Champions Cup.

North Macedonia, which is in the second tier of qualifiers, is one of the teams to be feared, having done well in qualifying in its quest to reach the world finals for the first time in its history, having done so last summer with the his first participation in the Continental Cup. In general, all dreams remain allowed in the new European annex.

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